Thursday, April 07, 2011

We Do It Oooooourrrr Way

In matters of worship, our habitual preference here at the Egg is for signs and symbols which are shared across ecumenical subdivisions, especially so when those things have the imprimatur of a long or noteworthy tradition. So, for example, we prefer alb to talar, weekly to occasional Eucharist, and a chalice to those despicable shot-glasses.

We take no position on yeast, as it seems that there are perfectly good arguments (and histories) on both sides.

And as readers who put up with our occasional rant about worship have probably gathered, we find that Lutheran worship, for all its wonderful-and-wretched diversity of practice, has generally gravitated toward the preservation (or, at least, restoration) of the central -- and ecumenical -- symbols. Especially since the Common Service, and comparable restorative gestures among the European churches, our worship life has tended away from sectarian distinctiveness. This is a very good thing.

But it leaves us wondering: What, in the conduct of worship and especially of the Mass, is distinctively Lutheran? What is it that, if you were to walk into a strange church on Sunday, would identify it for you as a community loyal to the Augsburg Confession? Beyond the frequent singing of A Mighty Fortress, we mean.

Our first thought was the Brief Order, but its is close enough to the Roman penitential rite, at least in structure. Here were our first thoughts on the subject:
  • The Kyrie. And Greco-Latinizing generally. Ever since the Service Book and Hymnal, many of us have used a "kyrie" based loosely on the offertory ektene in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. This is one of the numerous eastward tips of the hat (like the Eucharistic prayer beginning "Holy art thou ..." and the Vespers litany) made by Luther D. Reed and Eugene Brand, and there is nothing inherently wrong with any of them. But they do seem odd in a Western service. Incidentally, our parish has been using the Latin Kyrie from With One Voice and found it quite satisfactory.
  • Singing the Nunc dimittis after communion. Most people sing it at Vespers or Compline.
  • Historically, the very strange prohibition against self-communion by pastors. Although not presently on the books, at least in the ELCA, it has a long, long history among Lutherans. And, as Toivo Harjunpaa make clear, among absolutely nobody else. This must be one of the weirdest, dumbest and least ecumenical innovations ever to take root in the Reformation traditions. It is right up there with, and may well surpass, south-facing celebration in Anglicanism.
There are surely some other distinctives, but none come immediately to mind. We don't mean hymns, or homiletical emphases. We mean structural elements, especially of the Sunday service. Any thoughts, readers?


Pastor Joelle said...

I cannot give myself communion. It just seems weird. Nor do I put ashes on myself.

PrSBlake1 said...

Interesting. I didn't know that about the Kyrie - though I wonder about all those long extensive kyrie settings by composers from Ockeghem and Josquin through Palastrina, Bach and even Mozart. They were used liturgically. I have always assumed (and taught) that they were used for processional in the entry rite. Am I wrong? Regarding the Nunc Dimittis - the ELW eliminated the post-communion canticle, which I think actually works better - though I do miss this beautifully text. Self-communion - gee I must have missed that class in seminary. I served an Episcopal congregation for 11 years and included self-communion for all that time. I always thought it was just a tradition thing.

So, what is distinctly Lutheran - well I think there is a musical approach to the liturgy which is very distinctive and different from other traditions. Lutherans are usually a little more open to experimentation - which was not allowed in the Episcopal church. This is not always a good thing. I will continue to muse on this. Thanks for your thoughful and interesting posts...
Pr. S. Blake Duncan - now serving a Lutheran - ELCA -congregation.

Father Anonymous said...

Joelle: You're in good company, it seems. The weight of [Lutheran] tradition is with you. "Sfunny -- I had no idea how deeply-rooted this indiosyncrasy was until I read that article. It barely came up in my own formative years, and although most of what I know about liturgical theology comes from Lutheran sources, I have to admit that much of what I know from observing liturgical practice comes from Anglicans, who have a rubric to the opposite effect.

S, Blake: I can't say with any certainty. I know that , in the West, it was medieval Offertories that really turned into a show. I'd always assumed that Introits were used for the entrance of the clergy, but that does leave the question of who was doin what during those long troped Kyries.

As for Bach personally (as opposed to composers outside the Reformation traditions) I don't think he actually wrote all that many Kyries. Most of his church music was extra-liturgical: preludes, cantatas, etc., to be sung after the service proper, or at Communion. The Kyries seem to be from a couple of Missae breve, one later recycled into the showpiece B-Minor Mass. As I understand it, they were written specifically to show off his skills, in hope of getting a better job -- meaning that they weren't the "usual thing."

I'm absolutely no expert on liturgical practice in the Age of Orthodoxy, but I believe it was conditioned by the usual concern for decency and order, as well as an aversion to a couple of specific medieval practices -- the excessively showy Offertory being one, and lengthy expansion of texts being another. So until I hear otherwise, I'm going to assume that in Bach's experience, the Kyrie was typically used much as we know it today, which is to say statically, albeit sung by the choir.

If that's not the case, I'd really like to know.

PrSBlake1 said...

You are right about Bach. I shouldn't have put him on the list perhaps. I was thinking about length. The Kyrie in the B minor mass goes on forever (I am a former oboist and that is what it feels like when you are playing it!!!) But still the relative length of the Kyrie - Christe - Kyrie in many of the wonderful mass settings by composers of many ages that were intended for liturgical use is much longer than we Lutherans are used too. Still many of them are so glorious. The Kyrie in the Pope Marcellus mass of Palastrina is incredibly beautiful. Anyway - blessings.....

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts - different than what you're looking for but related:
There are a variety of Lutheran practices re: what the service is called: Divine Service, Lord's Supper, Communion, Eucharist, etc. For some the guiding principle seems to be "anything but Mass."
Also, Lutherans tend to emphasize preaching in the Mass - i.e. a full sermon, in contrast to the usually shorter Catholic homily.


Anonymous said...

Seems like the Aaronic blessing is peculiar. I don't recall receiving it in an Anglican or Roman mass.
I can usually pick out former Missouri Lutherans in an ELCA parish. They tend to bow before and after kneeling to receive communion. Of course that doesn't work for "drive through" communion.

Daniel Spigelmyer said...

Don't forget that Lutherans sit at the back of the church while the pastor stands alone and forlorn at the front of the sanctuary!